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Eco chic: Time for a holistic approach to beauty

Posted by Elizebath Bijoy Thursday, March 17, 2011

Daily grooming often means a combination of shower gel and shampoo, followed by body lotion, moisturiser, and for women foundation, mascara, lip gloss and other cosmetics. But how many of us know what goes into these products? We wouldn't dream of eating petrochemicals or pentaerythrityl, yet every day we unknowingly pile these onto our skin and hair. One cream can contain as many as 37 different ingredients.
Isn't it time we started moving towards a more holistic approach to beauty and began hunting down natural and organic products?
Thankfully things have moved on from the days when natural meant home-made concoctions from the fridge. Today you are as likely to find organic and natural skincare and cosmetics in high-end department stores as you are in specialist shops. CARE by designer Stella McCartney, Jo Wood Organics, Kiehl's, Elemis, Korres, L'Occitane and Jo Malone all cater to image- and environment-conscious women resulting in green products that are fashionable, cool and luxurious.
A recent survey carried out by the University of Hertfordshire in the UK found that seven out of ten women regularly use organic soap or shower gel, two-thirds use organic skincare and just over half use mineral make-up.
Janey Lee Grace, author of Look Great Naturally… Without Ditching the Lipstick, who helped compile the research says that words such as beauty, glamour and style can now be linked with the word natural "without thoughts of sackcloth".
Michelle Robertson from Organic Foods and Cafe in Dubai, which sells brands including A'kin, Mi-essence, Sante and Desert Essence, says she has seen an increase in demand for products that are free from artificial chemicals. "More people are after products that are exempt from harsh synthetic ingredients giving them confidence that what they are putting on their face and body is not harmful to them or the planet," she says.
The benefits
Today there is a natural alternative to everything from face cream to foundation — even Clinique has started to produce paraben- and aluminium-free lipsticks — meaning it is getting easier for women to save their skin, their cash and the planet while still looking gorgeous.
And these products can even be beneficial to the body, says Dr Anwar Hammadi, Specialist Dermatologist, The City Hospital, Dubai. He says, "Skin absorbs up to 60 per cent of 200 chemicals a day. Many of these contain petrochemicals, which can irritate the skin and in some cases actually cause harm. The skin identifies itself with natural products, so works in line with them better."
The other main draw lies in their environmental and social implications, say experts. "Organic skincare products and cosmetics are good for the environment as they use traditional methods of crop rotation to ensure fertility and weed and pest control," explains Robertson. "Organic and natural ingredients do not use artificial chemicals, pesticides or fertilisers thus reducing dependence on non-renewable resources."
Claude Hachache, Assistant Manager, Toni & Guy Dubai, says there are many positive aspects to using natural and organic products. "They are as efficient as chemical or synthetic ones and do not damage the hair in any way. Also people tend to be allergic to synthetic ingredients whereas natural and organic ones offer a safe alternative."
But with so many different marketing terms how can we tell what is natural, what is extracted from plants and what is organic? There are no official guidelines as to what constitutes natural beauty products, whereas organic must adhere to strict regulations that vary from country to country. Natural can come in many guises such as ‘eco', ‘ethical,' ‘green', or simply ‘from natural ingredients'. Even packaging can be misleading with glossy images of plants and fruit.
Experts recommend looking for products that are listed towards the top of the ingredient list. Items that appear near the beginning are present in greater quantities than those at the bottom. "Consumers are more likely to know what is natural and what is artificial purely by its name. Look for natural ingredients that you understand as opposed to chemical names," says Hachache.
Robertson adds, "There are some products that are just natural, some that use a few natural ingredients and some that are organic. Watch out for phrases such as ‘derived from' or ‘active ingredients' as these don't always mean something is 100 per cent natural or organic."
Scientific properties
Although organic and natural smell great, is there any science behind the properties of the ingredients? Robertson says there is. "Jojoba makes up a major part of many moisturisers and conditioners as its intensive oils can help treat dry skin and chemically damaged hair. Kinetin is a plant hormone that has been tested since the 1990s and is now a popular cosmetic ingredient for treating rosacea as well as anti-ageing. Yeast extract also contains a complex mixture of proteins, sugars, vitamins, amino acids and according to some claims may enhance the rate of renewal [cell turnover] of the skin."
The Body Shop has built its empire on environmental awareness and community trade and for years promoted the use of natural and organic ingredients across a range of its products. Its new collection of hair butter is made from pracaxi oil, which grows organically in the Amazon rainforest. "The cream is 100 per cent natural, biodegradable and organic leaving the consumer with a healthy conscience as well as hair that is manageable, shiny and soft," says a spokesperson for the brand.


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